‘Rye Lane’ Star Vivian Oparah on Her BAFTA Leading Actress Nomination: ‘I Thought It Was an Extension of My Dream’

“Rye Lane” was one of the standout British indie films of 2023, a lively and delightfully-spun rom-com set in the south of London that helped add a fresh coat of paint to a genre that had been fading for several years.

From first-time director Raine Allen Miller and led by rising stars Vivian Oparah and David Jonsson, both Londoners themselves, the film was hailed by critics at the Sundance Film Festival before being released in March.

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But despite the immense love that “Rye Lane” generated, resulting in a record 16 nominations at the British Independent Film Awards in December, few experts would have suggested it had the momentum to plant a flag in BAFTA’s main performance categories, especially given the competition. Neither did Oparah, whose nomination for leading actress alongside the likes of Emma Stone, Sandra Hüller and Margot Robbie was one of the most welcome surprises — at least from within the U.K. — of awards season.

As Oparah tells Variety, she got the news while half-asleep in the U.S. and immediately assumed it was a sick joke. But now, having come to terms with the fact she’ll be attending the BAFTAs as an actual nominee (she went last year “incognito” alongside Jonsson), she’s exceptionally grateful to be going, so long as she can hold back from fangirling too much over Stone and Hüller.

Where were you and what was your reaction when you heard you were nominated? 

Actually, I was in Atlanta. And suddenly my phone just started going off. And I woke up and I was like, “This isn’t real, like it like some sort of sick joke.” And I thought, “I’m gonna go back to sleep because this is so insane.” I thought it was just an extension of my dream.

Have you come to terms with it since?

It’s still really insane. I just feel super humble. And I’m so grateful to be in such incredible company. It’s not like I’m obsessed with Emma Stone or anything. And I just watched “Anatomy of Fall” and was like, “Oh, Sandra is the greatest actress in the world.”

I read that last year you actually attended the BAFTA ceremony as a guest, but were starstruck on seeing the likes of Viola Davis and Guillermo del Toro. 

Yeah, last year David [Jonsson] and I were like, “It’s good to come now, like in incognito mode a bit, just so you can get a sense of the place.” I wouldn’t have been able to create an image of it in my mind, no matter how much you watch the ceremony or the red carpet. It’s such a specifically overwhelming experience being there. So now I’m like, how did this happen?

The overall response to “Rye Lane” after it was released was phenomenal, especially for a film from a first-time director and with a relatively new cast. How was that experience from your side? 

It’s been insane. I think naturally as an actor, you shoot something and then you kind of detach from it entirely. You don’t know what’s going to happen — it could disappear entirely. So you just kind of take the experience that you have on set, reflect on the work that you’ve done, and go on your merry way. I think Sundance last year was the first time I felt something — I was in this wintery wonderland in America, where people had no cultural references to a lot of the stuff in the film, and yet they’re having such visceral reactions to it. And I was like, “OK, I think people like the film a little bit.” And that kind of snowballed.

And what’s been the impact in terms of your career? 

It’s been very, very lovely. I met my agents, CAA, and I love them. It’s just that thing of you having ideas of stuff that you want to do, but you don’t quite know the connective tissue between you and your ideas. They’re just kind of ideas and dreams and aspirations. And now there are links between me and my dreams and it feels crazy. In some regards, I have to dream bigger because things are happening and in the pipeline. I feel really lucky.

Anything in the pipeline you can discuss?

I can’t really say anything, but there are some exciting things. I’ve also started writing. I’ve written kind of my whole life, since I was about 10. But I’ve returned to that and really want to actualize those projects.

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